Gush Etzion Junction was a peaceful corner of the West Bank, according to The New York Times, until Palestinians ruined it with a series of attacks in the latest uprising. Such is the message in Isabel Kershner’s most recent attempt to whitewash Israel’s brutal and illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.
Readers are never reminded of the fact that Gush Etzion is an illegal Jewish-only settlement block located in the heart of the West Bank. Nor are they told that its presence means the loss of thousands of acres of land once vital to the livelihood of the indigenous Palestinians, the confiscation of water resources and a choking system of military checkpoints.
In her story today, Isabel Kershner makes no attempt to discern what Gush Etzion means to Palestinians, although it sprawls over a large tract of their heartland, on their confiscated hills and fields. She provides Gush Etzion’s Jewish history but says nothing of the Palestinian experience, and while listing recent attacks on Jews, she makes no mention of Palestinian injuries and deaths, which far exceed those of Israelis.
Her one attempt to provide a motive for Palestinian attacks is ludicrous: The junction has become a target because it is a “hub of coexistence.” Nothing is said about the crushing effects of the occupation, trigger-happy Israeli troops, the continuing confiscation of Palestinian land and the loss of hope.
She writes: “Jewish settler leaders have promoted the slightly shabby complex as a symbol of peaceful coexistence and evidence that Israelis and Palestinians can share the hotly contested territory.”
In other words, the settlers have the best of intentions. After stealing Palestinian land and water to build Jewish-only colonies, they insist that they want only to be good neighbors.
Kershner also makes a feeble effort to provide “balance,” bringing out her stock phrases to defend Israel’s crimes: “The Palestinians and much of the world consider all settlements in the territories seized in 1967 as illegal and an obstacle to establishing a Palestinian state.”
Much of the world. This is a duplicitous way to put it. In fact, the entire world opposes the settlements, even Israeli’s staunchest ally, the United States.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year announced a huge land grab from Palestinian villages surrounding Gush Etzion, the world rushed to condemn the act. This is important context in any discussion of the block, but no mention of it appears in Kershner’s story.
Other factors undermine her claim of peaceful coexistence and good intentions from settler leaders. B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights monitoring group, has frequently charged that the Gush Etzion police station is notorious for torturing Palestinian teens in order to extract confessions. It has released reports over several years pointing to significant abuses in the heart of the settlement block.
Kershner makes much of the presence of Palestinian employees at Gush Etzion Junction and manages to quote one of them—at the end of her story—thus suggesting that it is a welcoming place, open and tolerant. The backstory, however, is more revealing. It can be found in this paragraph from The Economist, written after Netanyahu’s land grab announcement last year:
“Encircled by Mr Netanyahu’s latest appropriation, Palestinian residents of the bucolic village of Wadi Fukin have already lost all but 450 of the 3,000 acres they once had, and stand to lose more. The hillsides where the village’s 600 sheep and goats graze are set to go. Unable to farm, many men find work as builders, often on Jewish settlements nearby. They may yet be called upon to build homes for Israelis on land they regard as their own.”
Wadi Fukin is one of the villages destined to lose under the latest expansion of Gush Etzion. Its tragic tale and that of many others are entirely missing from the story in the Times today. In such a context-free effort, Kershner makes her claims of tolerant settlers and a peaceful oasis, and the result is an appalling act of hypocrisy and spin.